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On leadership and nuclear power

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Allison M. Macfarlane became chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) roughly a year ago, replacing former chairman Gregory Jaczko. Macfarlane, a geologist and former associate professor of environmental science and policy at George Mason University, spoke with Tom Fox, a guest writer for On Leadership. Fox is vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

How would you describe your leadership style?

There are a number of definitions of leadership that get thrown around at the NRC, but I come from an academic background so I've developed a very inclusive, collegial style of leadership. I'm not hierarchical and I expect the folks who are supposedly below me to be more of my equals. I expect to have a back and forth with them, where I respect what they say and they respect what I say. I think that creating that kind of respect and openness makes employees feel better and then work better. Giving your colleagues the respect that's due to them also means that you meet with them frequently and you understand their views, but that you ultimately make your own decisions.

What are your top goals as NRC chairman?

The main goal and mission of the NRC is to ensure the safety and security of existing nuclear reactors and nuclear facilities. Another goal is continuing to implement the lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear plant accident in Japan. I also would like to improve communications here at the NRC both internally and externally, with the public and with our licensees. I also think it's very important to strengthen our relationships with our international counterparts since, as Fukushima showed us, safety is a global issue. Finally, I would like to increase diversity among the management at NRC.

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